The Federalist Papers Summary No 21: Hamilton
December 12, 1787
Having summarized in the last three papers the structure and events that determined the fates of other confederacies; this paper addresses two specific problems with the confederacy of the United States, namely the want of a sanction to its laws and a means of regulating contributions or revenues from the States. In the first case, the United States under the Articles has no power to exact obedience or punish disobedience to their resolutions which is unique among similar institutions in the political world. The primary result of this deficiency is that there is no means to protect one State from the ambitions of other States or foreign interests, or from factions within a State. The second article declares “each State shall retain every power, jurisdiction and right, not expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled”. But there is no authority given to the federal government to maintain this right. The power desired by the federal government mentioned in this paper is to be able to guarantee assistance “in repelling domestic dangers which may sometimes threaten the existence of the State constitutions”. This power undefined here however can be given by the States in a representative government where an ill administration can be cured by a change in men.
The second problem concerns the ability of the federal government to raise revenue. In the Articles federal taxes were to be paid proportionally based on the value of all land within each State and the improvements upon it and were to be collected by the legislatures of each States. This did not prove practical since it was impossible to fairly determine the wealth of a State based on land and population and therefore its proportion of the total to be paid. The proposed solution in this paper is to allow the national government to raise taxes in its own way and that way should be on consumption in the form of duties, excises and imposts. Consumption taxes “prescribe their own limit; which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end proposed-that is an extension of the revenue”. If they get too high, the consumption decreases as does the revenue.
Summary Written by Donald Mellon
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